How in the world?

Dear John,
I was a Christian for a long time, and then slowly, piece by piece, I was less of a Christian, I think, and now I’m not very much of one at all.  And I read your work, and sometimes I feel like maybe a god could actually exist after all, but I wouldn’t even begin to understand how to believe again. 
How, in the face of the things you’ve lived and felt and grappled with, do you continue to believe?
How in the world?

Dear How in the world,

Your question brought tears to my eyes, good tears, the kind that mean someone has just voiced something so very honest, so very human. Thank you for asking this. First off, please allow me to share these words from Rilke:

Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life may also have much sadness and difficulty…Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find these words.

That quote is from his slim volume Letters to a Young Poet. I heartily recommend it to you. I started with Rilke’s words because I want you to know there are days I don’t feel like much of a christian either, if at all. I guess what I’m saying is me too. And if it is any help at all, there are others too, many I visit with every week who share with me the same feelings you so bravely expressed.

Evidently there are some people who never doubt their faith, and who experience every day with Jesus as sweeter than the day before. Such people make me nervous. The longer I live, and the more I read those stories in the old Book, the more I’m convinced that being a christian or believing in God or keeping the faith or however you want to phrase it, is a daily rickety ride of summoning the guts to utter that phrase, which I’m sure you recall: Give us this day our daily bread. And although yes, we’re asking for literal bread, the deeper request is Please give us faith for the day. I believe that’s a bit, and maybe even a bunch, of what it means to be a christian – someone who wakes up shaky and asks for just enough to make it one more day. 

But you asked how do I keep on believing in this world? I get by with a little help from my friends (wink). I really do. There’s this thought in christian circles, one you may have heard, that goes something like: you can’t get in on someone else’s coattails, you’ve gotta have a faith of your own. That’s so dumb. It sounds so very heroic and muscular, and absolutely exhausts me. On days when my faith tank is empty, and it often is, I’ll read the poetry of William Matthews or the short stories of Andre Dubus, or I’ll listen to Copland or Kristofferson, or I’ll call a good friend or maybe my parents, or any number of things which lean in the direction of beauty (that’s important), and they may not make it all better, but they can make it a little better, and a little bit here and a little bit there can add up to enough to help me make it through the day and even the night, to help me keep believing that there is a grace that keeps this world, and that grace has to come from somewhere, or someone. Gathering up those bits gives me the courage to sit and do my best to write about whatever is true and honest and pure and lovely in this world.



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this business

the only authentic currency
for love
is love.
counterfeiting is common
practice but only a
few get away with it so
ask yourself:
am i that special?
the price tag on each exchange is
all you’ve got.
just remember –
you don’t always get
what you pay for.
look this isn’t my business but
the godfather’s so
if you don’t like it take
it up with him.
if you do here’s a tip –
show some respect.
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Dear John


Do you see that warm little cabin tucked in the midst of those lovely snow-flocked evergreens? Imagine I’m in that cabin, sitting at my keyboard in a faded flannel and sorta baggy Levis, just waiting for you to ask me anything, anything at all. If you can imagine that, even if that takes a stretch, then that’s the first step in this little experiment of mine.

The second step is to actually send me a question. My promise to you is that I’ll respond to your question in a frank and hearty manner. Here’s what I’m thinking. Two or three of you send me a question, shucks, there might be nine or ten of you if I’m lucky. Then starting the week of Thanksgiving and leading up to Christmas, every other day or so I’ll post your questions here with my response. Think of this as a Dear Abbey/Dear Sugar/Ask Amy kinda thing but the responses are coming from a lower middle class white male on the backside of forty, married for twenty-something years to the same lady, father to three pretty decent kids, former pastor turned poet (so think more spiritual lulu than guru) who believes at the end of the day its all going to be alright. I am not a licensed therapist but I am a licensed driver in Colorado and I own a beagle.

Okay, John, any parameters? Fair question. If you need financial advice, there are qualified people out there (Lord knows not me) who can help you. And if you’re interested in the answer to some theological conundrum that folks have been warring over for millennia, then I’m not your guy either. Its not that I won’t respond to your question, because as promised, I will, but if you’re looking for some clear-cut answer then I guarantee you I’ll frustrate you. Apart from that, ask away.

You can send your question to Address it to Dear John and I’ll repost it with some clever signature – whacked-out Winnie or cynical Cyrus or something like that. I reserve the right to edit your question a little, that’s just how it is. And just so you know, yes, I know what a traditional Dear John letter is, but here’s our opportunity to poke tradition in the eye.

So I’ll put another log on the fire in that little cabin and wait to hear from you. Thanks! 

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Love Poem No.20

I sit here eating chicken and wild rice soup
that my wife prepared last night from scratch.
She didn’t have to do that. But she did.
As I eat I eyeball the photographs magnetized to our
refrigerator door, pictures of three cherished children
that came about as a result of her agreeing to my
amorous advances on three ordained occasions.
She didn’t have to do that either. But she did.
In a few moments she’ll hop in the car and drive
to meet friends for lunch. When she starts the engine
she’ll be overshadowed by the easy listening station
at rock’n’roll volume. This will frustrate the dickens
out of her at first, as it has a thousand times before.
But then she’ll ease and pause and mutter thanks
for the antique she’s still stuck with.
I don’t have to leave the radio on like that. But I do.
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We must daily choose whom
we will serve – wonder or rage.
We can, and do, insist on
other words as options.
But those are, and will always be,
only variations of those two
nimble themes on which living hinges.
Its not that our insistence is futile,
for God is love and in him is no antsy.
But there are days when he wishes
we’d just choose from the originals
already and get on with it.
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This Is What We Do

His sole brother will be another year older this week.
So my father will drive headlong into the north Texas
wind to sit across from him and honor his face.
No doubt they will speak of pickups and children
until those topics grow quiet. Then their talk will seep
into the porous ground of memory both recent and past.
Two older men talking fondly of older things,
the essence of why they want to be together.
Before my father leaves that booming town he’ll
wind beyond its frantic highway to the still cemetery where
his parents sleep. He will go there as all mourners do,
repeating Easter’s mistake, seeking the living among the dead.
My father knows this but still he’ll go. To kneel and
to place fresh flowers, an assertion in favor
of the rising and against the fallenness of time.
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I wake again to this chancy,
jumbled affair wondering if
today will simply be more of
yesterday’s news or if something
terrifying might happen, like
being visited by an angel announcing
“You will conceive and bear a song
that will from this day forward
be sung soft over each who dies,
a necessary requiem to ease the
soul across the brief stint of doubt
that lies just before the benevolence.”
Either way, Lord, I rise ready. 
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